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Inside Pediatrics Podcast

Birmingham, Ala. (June 29, 2023) — The Southeast is bracing for heat indices in the triple digits over the next few days. In very hot weather, high humidity, and other conditions, body heat can build to dangerous levels. Conditions like this have led Children’s of Alabama pediatricians to advise parents to pay close attention to their children when it comes to heat-related illnesses. The most common heat-related illnesses are heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“Children are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke than adults,” said Dr. Amy McCollum, a pediatrician at Midtown Pediatrics at Children’s of Alabama. “Children have a body mass to surface area ratio that is smaller. They can’t sweat easily, and they can’t maintain their body temperature as well as adults.”

Doctors say heat exhaustion starts slowly, but if it is not treated, it can progress into a heat stroke. It can happen when someone is in a hot climate or environment and hasn’t been drinking enough liquids. McCollum says the signs of heat exhaustion are:

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Fast breathing and heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Increased thirst
  • Weakness and extreme tiredness
  • Fainting
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Increased Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Cool, clammy skin

Heat stroke is when a person’s temperature reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Heatstroke needs emergency medical care right away and can be life-threatening. Kids are at risk for heat stroke if they overdress or do intense physical activity in hot weather without drinking enough liquids. McCollum says the signs of a heat stroke are:

  • Vomiting
  • Worsening Muscle Cramps
  • Confusion
  • Slurring of Speech
  • Severe Headache
  • Weakness, Dizziness
  • Fast breathing and heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness (passing out)
  • Little or no sweating
  • Flushed, hot, dry skin

McCollum says if your child shows signs of heat stroke, get emergency medical care immediately. Parents can also help their children by encouraging them to stay hydrated and drink water.

“Water is always great, and cool water will help with temperature regulation,” said McCollum. “If your child is actively sweating in the sun, having some salt-containing or electrolyte fluids is also great.”

For athletes, McCollum says the recommendation is to have a water break, shade every 15 to 20 minutes, and take in four to eight ounces of a fluid containing electrolytes with every break (3-4 times per hour of the sun) during the day’s heat.  She also advises parents to avoid outside activities when it is very hot. Parents should also make sure their children are wearing light-colored, loose clothing in warm weather.

McCollum says another concern during hot weather is children being left alone in parked cars.

“Always look in the back seat and make sure everybody is out,” said McCollum. “Don’t leave them in the car for any period of time. If you are going indoors, they should go indoors.”

According to kidsandcars.org, eight children have died in hot car deaths this year, including one in Alabama.

For more information on heat illness, click here.